‘The only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing, say nothing and be nothing.’ Everyone seems to be an expert in finding faults … spouses, friends, co-workers, parishioners, children. We often seem to get them wrong: we do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, and fail to notice the things that we’re supposed to notice.
Being right doesn’t help. Neither does loving everyone or being perfect. The world crucified the only One with these qualities. He was criticized by friends, family and religious leaders.
The criticism is sometimes a comment, and sometimes only a look, a sigh, or even silence. But we have no doubt that we’ve been found lacking once again! What we do or say does not correspond to their expectations.
Sometimes we react well. Like the preacher when confronted with a parishioner criticizing his homilies. He just looked at the woman and said, “If what you say is true, would you mind praying for me?” Yes, as Dale Carnegie once said, any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain – and most fools do. So, he continues, when they hand you a lemon, make lemonade!
Easier said than done! Many times we become defensive or discouraged. We can pretend indifference. We can conjure up justifications for ourselves, explaining why we had to do what we did. We can reply angrily and condemn the critic – in our hearts or out loud. We can blurt out the list of accomplishments to use as armor against our critics. The problem is that none of this seems to help much!
It is true, criticism has a positive side. First of all, if you are being criticized it is probably because you have taken a risk and did something. Secondly, as with failure, criticism may be regarded as valuable feedback and a necessary part of the learning process. It was the negative criticism that forced Beethoven and Mozart to soar higher. The book of Proverbs says, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom for the future.”
But why is it that we cannot just ignore the criticism and move forward without bitterness and pain? Because there is an underlying issue that needs to be resolved. We want to be valued for who we are. But in criticism we hear, ‘I value you less’ or ‘I don’t value you at all’ or ‘I’d value you more if you hadn’t done or said that.’
This is why the real way to handle criticism is discovering someone who can value us as we are. Someone who will still value us when we mess up. Someone who will never put us down. And as far as I know, there is only one who can do this. His name is God.
If we live in the awareness of His affection, criticism loses a lot of its bite. It is no longer that important what people think of us. The pastor received an anonymous note with nothing but the word ‘FOOL!’ written on it. The next Sunday he said in Church, ‘I’ve gotten many notes without signatures before, but this is the first time I got one where someone forgot to write the note and just signed his name!’
At one point in his ministry, George Whitefield, an English evangelist received a vicious letter accusing him of wrongdoing. His reply was brief and courteous: “I thank you heartily for your letter. As for what you and my other enemies are saying against me, I know worse things about myself than you will ever say about me. With love in Christ, George Whitefield.”
Beat your critic down with humor. After mass, one of the listeners came up to the priest and said, “Father, you quoted the wrong book of the Scriptures.” “Yes?” he answered, “And what else did you get out of the sermon?”
A young musician’s concert was poorly received by the critics. The famous Finnish composer Jean Sibelius consoled him by patting him on the shoulder and saying, “Remember, son, there is no city in the world where they built a statue to a critic.”
The story is told of a judge who was frequently ridiculed by a lawyer. When asked by a friend why he didn’t rebuke his assailant, he replied, “In our town lives a widow who has a dog. And whenever the moon shines, the dog goes outside and barks all night.” “So?” asked the friend… “Oh,” the judge replied, “the moon goes on shining – that’s all.”
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.